As leaders, I am sure we’ve all had experiences that make us feel anger, pain, happiness or leave us scratching our heads. I’ve experienced many situations that have brought about these feelings, but ultimately, these experiences created learning opportunities and contributed to helping me develop into the leader I am today. Most everything we experience has the chance to shape us, but how we allow events to shape us can set a precedent for years to come.
I started my management career at age 38 in a supervisory role. Like all new things, my new position had many challenges, some I conquered and some I failed. I was fortunate to have a very experienced boss who mentored me, shared their experiences and shared in mine. My boss mentored me for about one year and then I was promoted to a manager role with a new boss. As a manager, I became acutely aware of different management styles. My new boss was very experienced in the industry but lacked effectiveness in leading others- was limited in holding others accountable and had obvious favorites. I began to struggle with this approach but knew I had to give it time.
As I continued to grow in my ability, my confidence and comfort in voicing my opinions increased; I could feel this person felt threatened by my skill set. Many of you, I’m sure, have felt this type of energy and it is not good. True leaders embrace their teams’ talents and attributes, but insecure, emotionally unintelligent individuals feel threatened. After an incident directed at me, I told my boss privately, that I felt ostracized by those actions. My boss stated that wasn’t the intent, apologized and never did it again. The lesson I learned is that one must be one’s own advocate. We have an obligation to speak our truths respectfully to help others understand how their words or actions make us feel and ask for it to stop. I learned to always be aware of my words and behavior, always treat others equally especially in the work unit and to speak my truth. After five and a half years, I moved on.
In my new director position, my scope of responsibility increased. As the company was growing, a new regional leader was hired; this person was my new boss. From day one, my new boss went to great lengths to establish their position as the new sheriff in town. I get it, however, there is a way to do this productively and a way that is off putting. As we worked together, my boss would make it clear that they were the boss. For example, Jane make me these copies; Jane make sure you run emails by me before you send them. Now, while copies must be made and emails must be written, menial tasks and micromanagement has no place when managing director level personnel. I knew this management style wasn’t going to work, so I decided to speak my truth. In doing so, I kept to “I” statements, I feel disrespected when you speak to me this way, and when you ask me to do menial tasks I feel like I am not a colleague. My boss was surprised; the red face was the indicator there was no happiness attached to me calling out this bullshit behavior, but I felt empowered for expressing my feelings productively and guess what, the behavior stopped. I learned that if you want to establish yourself as a leader, you do it with knowledge, grace and trusted authority, not by putting others in their places. After two years, I moved on.
Again, I was hired as a director, shortly afterward promoted to COO and after two years, became CEO. I still had a boss, but fortunately a terrific one. My boss was respectful, collaborative, honored what I brought to the table and gave me constructive criticism. We worked closely together and complimented each other’s skill set, thus the business flourished. It was truly one of the best jobs of my life, so far. So, what did I learn? Well, not everyone knows everything, not even the CEO, but with collaboration anything is possible. Six and a half years later, I am ready to transition into a new position with a new boss….my journey continues.
Now you may be reading this saying, maybe I just sucked at my jobs or I am a terrible leader or overly sensitive. Maybe, but my track record would say differently. I also understand that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I think all of us would agree, it is HOW you say things that really counts.
I wanted to write this blog to highlight experiences I have had as a woman and a leader and if you noticed I have not used any gender identifying pronouns, for a couple reasons, I am not trying to call out anyone and I don’t want to make this about gender. However, isn’t it sometimes about gender?..Hmmm, maybe….
My experiences, positive and negative, continue to shape my evolution as a person, woman, and leader. I have learned to embrace all situations, because there is opportunity to teach, learn and evolve. Regardless if events in life are about gender or not, I understand the impact my behavior can have on others, do you?
Disclaimer: the advice in this blog is meant to provide guidance and be thought provoking. It is the writer’s opinion only.